Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for March 2018

We Still Connect People

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And…now the Facebook “memos” are starting to leak.

This one headlines a story from BuzzFeed, from Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook vice president writing on June 18, 2016:

So we connect more people. 

That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.

And still we connect people.

The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good. It is perhaps the only area where the metrics do tell the true story as far as we are concerned.

The memo was apparently titled “The Ugly.”

What happened to the Good and the Bad preceding the Ugly?

BuzzFeed’s team suggests this memo “reveals the extent to which Facebook’s leadership understood the physical and social risks the platform’s products carried — even as the company downplayed those risks in public.”

And they point out Bosworth was no newbie — he’d been with the company since 2006, working on everything from the introduction of the News Feed (which many people forget instigated its own privacy outcry) to Facebook’s anti-abuse system and AR/VR efforts.

Mark Zuckerberg apparently didn’t respond at the time, but did respond to BuzzFeed after publication of their story:

Boz is a talented leader who says many provocative things. This was one that most people at Facebook including myself disagreed with strongly. We’ve never believed the ends justify the means.

We recognize that connecting people isn’t enough by itself. We also need to work to bring people closer together. We changed our whole mission and company focus to reflect this last year.

More from Bosworth’s memo:

I know a lot of people don’t want to hear this. Most of us have the luxury of working in the warm glow of building products consumers love. But make no mistake, growth tactics are how we got here. If you joined the company because it is doing great work, that’s why we get to do that great work. We do have great products but we still wouldn’t be half our size without pushing the envelope on growth. Nothing makes Facebook as valuable as having your friends on it, and no product decisions have gotten as many friends on as the ones made in growth. Not photo tagging. Not news feed. Not messenger. Nothing.

In almost all of our work, we have to answer hard questions about what we believe. We have to justify the metrics and make sure they aren’t losing out on a bigger picture. But connecting people. That’s our imperative. Because that’s what we do. We connect people.

The cynical business side of me says, “Of course it was all about growth.”

The humanitarian side of me’s reaction says, “Really? ‘We have to answer hard questions about what we believe?’”

What were the questions Facebookers asked themselves about their massive, breakneck growth, and what were their answers?

Once again, I refer you to Mark Zuckerberg’s coming testimony on Capitol Hill.  It could be the grilling of the century.

Written by turbotodd

March 30, 2018 at 8:57 am

Posted in 2018, facebook

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Facebook to Limit 3rd Party Data

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Facebook is going to start to limit how much data it makes available to advertisers buying hyper-targeted ads on the social network, according to a report from Recode.

Specifically, Facebook has indicated it would stop using data from third-party data aggregators, including companies like Acxiom and Experian, both of which have extensive data stores of offline data such as purchasing activity which Facebook could use to supplement its own data set.

Recode recounts that Facebook previously let advertisers target people using data from a number of sources (beyond Experian and Acxiom), including:

  • Data from Facebook, which the company collects from user activity and profiles.
  • Data from the advertiser itself, like customer emails they’ve collected on their own.

Official confirmation of the move came from Graham Mudd, a product marketing manager at Facebook:

We want to let advertisers know that we will be shutting down Partner Categories,” Mudd said in the statement. “This product enables third party data providers to offer their targeting directly on Facebook. While this is common industry practice, we believe this step, winding down over the next six months, will help improve people’s privacy on Facebook.

Recode notes, however, that even had the move been made earlier, this decision would not have impacted the outcome of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which that firm collected the personal data of some 50 million Facebook users without their permission.

In related news, Facebook has also introduced new, more centralized privacy controls that are “easier to find and use”:

We’ve redesigned our entire settings menu on mobile devices from top to bottom to make things easier to find. Instead of having settings spread across nearly 20 different screens, they’re now accessible from a single place. We’ve also cleaned up outdated settings so it’s clear what information can and can’t be shared with apps.

The new “Privacy Shortcuts” menu is just that, a menu where you can “control your data in just a few taps, with clearer expectations of how our controls work.”

As for all the various and sundry your data has been used by the company in the past, I guess we’ll just have to wait for Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony on Capitol Hill.

Be sure to share with all your friends. ; )

Written by turbotodd

March 29, 2018 at 9:57 am

Posted in 2018, facebook, privacy, social media

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Human Crash Test Dummies?

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Put on the brakes!

The NTSB has dispatched investigators to examine another fatal crash of a Tesla electric vehicle, this one last week in California. 

One of the goals of their investigation will be to determine whether its semi-automated driving system was engaged, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

“Unclear if automated control system was active at time of crash,” the NTSB said in a social-media posting, in a reference to Tesla’s Autopilot feature. “Issues examined include: post-crash fire, steps to make vehicle safe for removal from scene.”

According to the story, a man died in the accident after his Tesla Model X sport-utility vehicle traveling south on Highway 101 struck a barrier and was struck by two other vehicles.

“This investigation is not focused on the automation, rather, it is focused on understanding the post-crash fire and the steps taken to make the vehicle safe for removal/transport from the scene,” an NTSB spokesman said in an email message. “We are working with Tesla to determine if automation was in use at the time of the accident, but the focus of this field investigation is on the other two points.”

Still, the NTSB has found itself increasingly scrutinizing emerging automated- driving technologies, adding to typical investigations the agency conducts of crashes involving aircraft, trains and buses, and other incidents.

I’ll ask the question: Is this going to increasingly put the NTSB in a difficult position, being asked to investigate accidents by semi- or fully-autonomous vehicles after the crash has occurred, instead of having the U.S. Congress or other authority put some laws into effect that are proactive and prescriptive?

The SELF-DRIVE Act, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives late last year, aimed to allow automakers and tech giants to eventually test as many as 100,000 experimental autonomous vehicles annually. 

But as reported by Recode, under the proposal those companies could obtain exemptions for the federal safety standards that govern all motor vehicles, and they would not have to seek review of their technology before it hits the market.

The measure got hung up in the U.S. Senate, and perhaps for good reason (although the hitch was concerns about cybersecurity intrusions, and not the autonomous technology itself).

When I went through driving school, they always told me to keep two hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road.  I always thought it was a pretty good prescription for safer driving.

And though I fully expect in the long term autonomous vehicles will be a boon for highway safety, in the short term, we humans seem to be sitting in the crash test dummy driver(less) seat.

Written by turbotodd

March 28, 2018 at 2:33 pm

Atlanta’s Cyber Attack

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In case you hadn’t heard or read, the city of Atlanta has been hamstrung by a ransomware attack that began last Thursday.

The New York Times’ Alan Blinder and Nicole Perlroth provided an update yesterday.  The key facts thus far:

  • This was one of the most “sustained and consequential cyberattacks ever mounted against a major American city.”
  • It “laid bare once again the vulnerabilities of governments as they rely on computer networks for day-to-day operations.”
  • The attackers, the “SamSam” hacking crew, locked up the city’s files, and gave the city a week to pay ~ $51,000 in ransom via Bitcoin.
  • While the attack didn’t impact Atlanta’s 911 calls or wastewater treatment, “other arms of city government have been scrambled for days.” 
  • But the Atlanta Municipal Court has been unable to validate warrants, police officers have been writing reports by hand, and the city has stopped taking employment applications.
  • Dell SecureWorks and Cisco Security are working to restore the city’s systems, and the city’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, has not yet indicated whether the city would pay the ransom.

The Times also cited a 2016 survey of CIOs for jurisdictions across the country found that obtaining ransom was the “most common purpose of cyberattacks on a city or county government, accounting for nearly one-third of all attacks.”

In the meantime, many of Atlanta’s core public services are being delivered by that trusty and dependable standby, pen and paper.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to contend with ransomware, IBM Incident Response Services published this “Ransomeware Response Guide (Registration required).” 

Written by turbotodd

March 28, 2018 at 10:02 am

Uber’s Loss of Autonomy

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The Verge is reporting that Arizona has suspended Uber’s testing of autonomous vehicles following last week’s fatal crash in the city of Tempe.

That accident occurred at night and coincided with autonomous test driver Rafaela Vasquez looking down just prior to the moment of impact, leaving pedestrian 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg dead.

The Verge reports this was likely the first death caused by a self-driving vehicle, and the aftermath has been “severe” for Uber. The company voluntarily suspended self-driving operations in the state amid an NTSB investigation, and is currently under investigation by the Tempe Police Department.

In his formal letter to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi (dated yesterday, March 26, 2018), Arizona governor Doug Ducey, a Republic who had initially been quite welcoming of Uber’s using Arizona public roads as its autonomous vehicle proving grounds, wrote the following:

As governor, my top priority is public safety. Improving public safety has always been the emphasis of Arizona’s approach to autonomous vehicle testing, and my expectation is that public safety is also the top priority for all who operate this technology in the state of Arizona.

The incident that took place on March 18 is an unquestionable failure to comply with this expectation. While the incident is currently under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Arizona must take action now. In the best interest of the people of my state, I have directed the Arizona Department of Transportation to suspend Uber’s ability to test and operate autonomous vehicles on Arizona’s public roadways.

The Verge reminds us that Uber had been testing self-driving cars in Arizona since late 2016, thanks to Arizona’s loose regulatory stance on the technology.

So what does this portend for the future of autonomous vehicles? The future of Uber’s self-driving program?

Their cause certainly wasn’t assisted by a report from The New York Times last week that Uber had been struggling to meet a target of just 13 miles per “intervention” in Arizona, compared to Waymo’s 5,600 miles. 

And the Time’s report suggested Uber was cutting other corners, so to speak, putting more of its test drivers out on solo runs as opposed to working in pairs.

Uber has since halted autonomous car tests in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Toronto as well, and the Time’s indicated “it is not clear when the company will revive them.”

How about when they can prove they can stop running over pedestrians?

Written by turbotodd

March 27, 2018 at 10:08 am

Bad Facebook Hair Day

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Facebook’s having a bad hair day.

Or maybe it’s a whole week.

Month? 

Year?!

Their stock plunged 5 percent today after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission confirmed it had opened a “non-public probe” into the company’s privacy practices.

According to a CNBC report:

“The FTC takes very seriously recent press reports raising substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook. Today, the FTC is confirming that it has an open non-public investigation into these practices,” the agency said in a statement. 

If Facebook was found to have violated a consent decree it signed with the FTC in 2011, each violation could cost the company $40,000.

Late last week, The Guardian provided a good summary and the latest developments of Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook (read: our) data, including details revealing how politicians and regulators have responded around the world.

And Facebook faces a grassroots movement calling for people to delete their Facebook accounts, #DeleteFacebook.

How many will actually go through with it, only time will tell.

What the entire episode tells me, though, is that privacy isn’t dead — never is, never was, and people are finally starting to come to terms with just how valuable their personal information has been to others (Facebook), and how much it should be to themselves.

Written by turbotodd

March 26, 2018 at 10:45 am

Posted in 2018, facebook

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Guccifer Unmasked?

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The Daily Beast is reporting that Guccifer 2.0, the lone hacker who took credit for providing Wikileaks with stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee, was an officer of Russia’s military intelligence directorate (GRU).

As the Daily Beast observes, the attribution of Guccifer 2.0 as an officer of Russia’s largest foreign intelligence agency would “cross the Kremlin threshold” — and move the investigation closer to Trump himself.

The identification came about as a result of Guccifer’s failure to activate a VPN client before logging, thereby leaving a Moscow-based IP address in the server logs of an American social media company.

Working from the IP address, U.S investigators identified Guccifer 2.0 as a particular GRU officer working out of the agency’s HQ on Grizodubovoy Street in Moscow.

As Daily Beast explains, this is a breakthrough because Guccifer had sprung into existence on June 15, 2016, after a computer security firm tied Russia to an intrusion at the Democratic National Committee. The Guccifer persona had identified themselves as an “independent Romanian hacktivist who’d breached the DNC on a lark.”

Guess we’ll have to wait and see what special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has to say about that provenance.

Meanwhile, back here in these United States, online classified site Craigslist has pulled its entire personal ad section after Congress passed a new sex trafficking bill that puts more liability on websites.

Craigslist said it couldn’t afford the risk of continuing the host personal ads:

US Congress just passed

HR 1865, “FOSTA”

, seeking to subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully. Any tool or service can be misused. We can’t take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back someday. To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through craigslist, we wish you every happiness!

And it wasn’t just Craigslist… Reddit has also banned certain subreddits, with several less well-known sites also having ended their personal sections.

The name of the bill was H.R.1865, or the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, or “FOSTA.”

Written by turbotodd

March 23, 2018 at 11:15 am

Posted in 2018

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